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Turkey for all

Volunteers play host to needy families

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Turkey for all

Nora Othman helps young Collins Schluer at the serving station at Mountain Mike’s Pizza Thursday morning – the site of the annual “Thanksgiving in Manteca” event organized by Sunrise Kiwanis.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED November 22, 2012 9:40 p.m.

Sometimes just the promise of a hot meal is enough to get people lined up.

After spending all night cooking 65 turkeys, volunteers from the Sunrise Kiwanis and the Manteca Noon Rotary watched in amazement as families and individuals lined up en masse for a complimentary Thanksgiving dinner.

And through the group’s teamwork and dedication, others – even those who make sure that the hungry get food for a living – saw just how powerful a community joint effort can truly be.

“I showed up today and was totally blown away,” said Second Harvest Food Bank CEO Mike Mallory. “I’m humbled because these are people who truly do this from their hearts. This is an all-volunteer effort here. And that’s an amazing thing to see.”

Now in its third year, the Thanksgiving in Manteca community dinner – a Kiwanis effort that receives support from the Rotary and other community service groups – has grown significantly since it was first announced and introduced to the community.

Initially the event only drew 60 people, and last year more than 500 showed up to the event. Just over an hour after opening the doors at Mountain Mike’s Pizza Thursday they had already nearly hit that same total with almost three-fourths of those people taking their meals home with them.

More than 1,150 people were served this year one way or another.

“At the end we ended up running out of food,” said Mountain Mike’s owner, Kiwanian and Rotarian Jeff Liotard. “But we made these tickets that we distributed to the school district so that the homeless kids and their families could come down and eat with their families. And just as we were getting ready to close up we had one of those students come in and we didn’t have anything else to give.

“So I fired up the oven and cooked them a pizza. They were able to sit and enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner as a family.”

Kiwanian Brian Mills said that the work to solicit donations and start putting everything together typically starts back in September, and can be somewhat of a mundane task.

But this year he was able to hear the stories of some of the families that need the assistance the most – giving him a renewed sense of purpose and allowing him to put a human face on the work that goes into making everything happen.

“I have more phone numbers than you could possibly imagine,” he said. “I heard a lot of stories this year, and some of them are very heartbreaking. They were from people that were very grateful and appreciative – that were crying when they were talking to me on the phone.

“We’re talking about people from all walks of life. And then there are people that just want to help. We had a lady that knew of a neighbor that wasn’t going to be able to cook dinner because she was bedridden so she called us because she wanted us to be able to deliver to her. It restores your faith in people when you hear about things like that.”

Then there were the students like Avneet Khabra – a member of the Sierra High Interact club – that gave up part of their Thanksgiving so that others could have an enjoyable one.

It’s just a way, he said, to give back and be thankful for everything he has in his life.

“I enjoy helping out the families and helping to make the community a better place,” he said. “They’re really appreciative. They recognize the impact on the community.”

Liotard noted that without the crew of volunteers that showed up early and stayed every step of the way – groups that included the Manteca Police Officers Association as well as the service groups – the event would not have been possible.

Next year, he said, they’re going to have to cook more than 100 turkeys to meet the rising demand.

“We had somebody from Salida come today that heard about us,” he said. “Whether it was turkey or pizza – everybody got a chance to eat today. That’s what it’s all about.”

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